Bill Peduto traveled the world for eight years and held forth on matters far beyond the power of any local official. What the people of Pittsburgh needed was for him to stay home and pay attention to the basics of city government.
Now, the Fern Hollow Bridge has collapsed into Frick Park. It is a city bridge for which the mayor is responsible. It is a cautionary tale.
There were troubling signs from the beginning of Peduto’s administration. Instead of doubling down on equipment and city workers to plow our streets, newly elected Mayor Peduto promised a computerized program to make it happen. Eight years later, that program is not in place, and many of our plows are old and down for repair.
Instead of simply filling our annual rash of potholes in springtime, he initiated a study to find out how long it takes to fill a pothole and why. Of course, the potholes kept coming and the task of filling them has never changed.
He built elevated concrete roundabouts at quiet city intersections and imposed other bizarre and confusing traffic patterns, even when they impede emergency vehicles and delivery trucks. It was all done with a “we know what’s best for you” attitude.
Even those of us who have long wanted safer bicycling in the city were put off by his “take it or leave it” bike lane edicts.
Peduto created departments with high-sounding names that appealed to the policy elites. There is a Department of Innovation and Performance and a Department of Mobility and Infrastructure — that last department apparently forgetting that bridges are infrastructure.
He created a chief resilience officer when what we needed most was a chief “plow the streets” officer and a chief “keep our bridges safe” officer. It was mostly fluff, little substance.
But the mayor did travel — a lot. With international trips to Havana, Milan, Dubai, Copenhagen, Bellagio, Ludwigsburg, London, Paris, Toronto, Lyon and elsewhere, it sometimes seemed that being mayor was one big paid vacation.
Missing the point, he argued that only a small percentage of this travel was paid for by taxpayers. We were paying him to stay here and be our mayor, making sure that public safety and our roads and our bridges were in order.
It seems that at some point Peduto began to believe in his own PR. Being the mayor of Pittsburgh was not enough. It’s amazing that nobody close to him, not even his chief of staff, could bring him back to earth, but he surrounded himself with cheerleaders.
If this sounds a little personal, that’s because it is. My family crossed the Fern Hollow Bridge many times every day. And this should be personal to everyone who must continue to cross other city bridges after the collapse of this one.
As City Controller Michael Lamb told KDKA-TV investigative reporter Andy Sheehan in 2018, “When you’re running a city of this size, presence is important and being here for the day-to-day decisions of the city is an important thing and a lot that should be getting done doesn’t get done because of it.”
In response, Peduto bragged that his Twitter fight with then-President Trump over the Paris climate agreement put him in the international spotlight.
“Well, it’s a role I’ve sort of been cast into since one famous tweet that’s received about 25 million views,” he said.
Making the hard budget choices to do what had to be done for the safety of our community would not have been as glamorous, but that is exactly what Pittsburgh’s mayor should have been doing. Thankfully, it looks like Mayor Ed Gainey gets it.
Now the Fern Hollow Bridge sits at the bottom of a ravine, the lasting symbol of a guy who never wanted to do what the voters elected him to do.